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How Backpage Secrets Became Front Page News

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Thursday, April 19, 2018 @ 9:56 AM
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Anne Reed AFA Journal MORE

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation Summit in Washington, DC. I’ll be honest. On some level, I didn’t want to go. Four long days jam-packed with explicit information about sexual abuses rampant across the globe was not something to be thrilled about in my estimation. Not exactly a fun and uplifting little getaway. 

When past articles required me to conduct in-depth research into pornography, sexual depravity, and the abuses found within that gruesome realm, the realities were suffocating. I had learned far more than I ever wanted to know. 

I thought I knew a lot. Then I attended this summit. I learned how very little I knew. The depth and prevalence of sexual depravity are far worse than I thought possible. 

While the #Metoo movement is front and center in the news, the darkest of the evil remains in the darkness. Yet, I am encouraged by so many groups doggedly fighting this battle on many fronts. 

Many in attendance have been working for years to bring down Backpage.com, the largest publisher of online ads soliciting sex and collaborating with traffickers to sell human beings – both adults and children – for sex. Backpage hired “moderators” to supposedly guard against such ads, but reports have indicated its true intention was to educate the traffickers on word usage, thereby concealing the criminal activity from which it secured massive profits. 

From 2012 to 2013, Backpage’s net revenue increased from $71 million to $112.7 million. Then in 2014, it grew to $134.9 million and was on track to reach $153.8 million in 2015. 

Repeated attempts have been made by law enforcement, survivors, and advocacy groups to hold Carl Ferrer accountable for his role as CEO of Backpage, arguably the world’s largest-ever facilitator of sex trafficking, to no avail. But on April 6, 2018, while I was present at the summit, the announcement was made that Backpage was seized by the U.S. Department of Justice. It was quite an experience sitting in a room with hundreds of men and women who have dedicated their lives to bringing an end to trafficking and sexual exploitation as a whole. You can only imagine the eruption of cheers and applause. It must have shaken the building! 

Ferrer has since pled guilty to charges of facilitating prostitution and money laundering. He also agreed to cooperate in the ongoing prosecution of Backpage.com founders Michael Lacey and James Larkin. 

A great deal of pain, devastation, and relentless legal pursuits led up to April 11, 2018, when President Trump signed the FOSTA-SESTA package, which consisted of U.S. Senate and House bills, “The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act” and “Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act.” The legislation makes it illegal to knowingly assist, facilitate, or support sex trafficking and amended Section 230 safe harbors of the Communications Decency Act that had defied common sense in its protection of online platforms like Backpage that facilitate illegal activities. 

I am Jane Doe is an eye-opening documentary about the victims of child sex trafficking and their families. The film details the stories of children sold on Backpage, the trauma they and their families experienced, and the agonizingly prolonged legal battles they endured to finally bring about the legislative victory. The documentary is available on DVD and through streaming services. It is rated PG13 for graphic content, language, and violence portrayed to accurately communicate the urgency of the situation not yet addressed by legislation at the time of the film’s production. 

The demand for children as sexual objects to be used for sick sexual gratification is staggering – a twisted, selfish evil more prevalent than any of us want to admit. There is something about human nature that causes us to recoil and turn our heads from such evil. But on this, we can’t. 

The closing down of the international online brothel known as Backpage is a colossal victory. But the depraved demand is still living and breathing in earth-shattering numbers. Where there is demand, it will be met, one way or another. 

We must be watchful, prayerful, and active. We must educate others. We must fight. 

Sign up for email newsletters from the National Center for Sexual Exploitation here.

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